I’ve already shared my experience about my visit shortly before the grape harvest in the Melnik wine cellar Zlaten Rozhen and my impressions of Federico Ricci – consultant and product director of the winery. I touched on the tour we took in the winery and mostly among the vines in the villages of Levunovo and Kapatovo. The article would have been too long if I had shared all of what Federico was talking about as he showed me the different soils and reliefs on the way to the vineyard. So, now it’s time to share Federico’s answers on some topics that interest me and hopefully you as well.
Before the interview
After clearing up some last details with his colleagues in the cellar regarding the beginning of the grape harvest, I started with my questions. I was impressed by the calmness of the general atmosphere on the brink of such an important event as the harvest. But Federico tells me “With a straightforward schedule, there is no stress.” Let’s not forget the importance of experience under the belt. Here’s what else he shared:
What is your opinion on this region?
I’m in love with it. My first visit here was in 1999 and straightaway I was swept away by the fantastic nature. The grape quality here is amazing. When the team from Zlaten Rozhen invited me to work here I didn’t need to think twice. The conditions here are perfect for producing excellent wines considered as such not only on the Bulgarian market, but also worldwide.
On the way to the hotel, we stop atop a hill with an unbelievable view.
Tell me about the specifics of these terrains.
The Struma river has cut the valley and formed the various soils. The middle part is the best. Some soils come from the Pirin, others come from the river and from Melnik, thus forming a mixture in different proportions of granite and quartz, clay and sand.
People ask “How is this plot different from the one over there, they’re merely 50 metres away from each other?”. No, that’s not just 50 metres of difference, it’s millions of years.
The Struma River and its tributaries from the Pirin have created slits of different sizes and we can see different soils and reflect on how they were formed millions of years ago. Specific types of rocks and soils come from Pirin, which mix with the sands in Melnik and form exceptional soils.
Kapatova is not exactly Melnik, it is more correct to say the Struma Valley. The soils are much different than those around Melnik. Even in Melnik itself the soils are very diverse, there are rocks from the sea and other soils from the river.
We’ve attempted to explain and demonstrate these different soils in the tasting room. We brought different soils from the Kapatovo vineyards and presented them in glass containers. Soon we will showcase an interesting presentation of these soils because we want people to see that wine is not maths or a recipe. It is what it is because of the terroir here. We are only helping it to express himself.
Federico is a person deeply connected to nature, admires the flock of sheep that obstructs our path as we drive to the next village. He doesn’t complain or whine about the few cows slowing us down. We stop so that he can “greet” and hug the neighbour’s dog. He doesn‘t mind getting a bit sandy from it.
What do you think about the comparison between the Melnik region and Tuscany?
Everyone needs a reference, to be compared to someone else. But what is Tuscany, this is a word, not just a beautiful landscape with trees and vines. Tuscany today is a way of life, way of thinking. Beauty, wellbeing and ecological thinking are in all aspects of this region – art, wine, tourism, food.
“Melnik has an incredible potential and unique character that has to be shown in whole Europe.“ “
There are many places in Tuscany which have the same soil – yellow sand from the bottom of the ocean. But to be like Tuscany you need to act as Tuscany.
You don’t need to be like Tuscany. Melnik is unique and that needs to be shown off. The region is fantastic, full of history, nature, breathtaking landscapes and wonderful wines.
In Zlaten Rozhen we work with our own grapevine massifs from two plots around Levunovo and Kapatova. We make wines with characteristics specific to this region. We want to show off the wine from the Struma Valley.
We stop again and he shows me other soils which at first glance look the same. Federico digs a little and tells me that this soil has a higher clay content because of the way it crumbles, it has small white stones and seashells. He stresses the fact that they’re not fossils but shells with carbon inside.
Federico: The yellow sand is made up of shells, just like the ones on the beach by the seaside. The white sand has a different structure.
We stop and observe the difference in the levels. Here the top level is made up of rocks brought by the river, sand from the sea and underneath clay which retains the water.
“Nature isn’t maths, two plus two in wine can equal 25 or -5, there are no proportions, it is a live organism.“
Which soils are best for growing vines?
Nothing is better or best in nature. Everyone is after the rating but that depends on what we want, what we seek. Sandy soils result a certain wine while rocky soils produce another. Nature isn’t maths, two plus two in wine can equal 25 or -5, there are no proportions, it is a live organism.
I see that the sandy soils are your passion, how did that happen?
In the past sandy soils have been highly underrated, they were thought to result in light and simple wines. But with time a difference among the sandy soils was established. Those sands which come from the bottom of the ocean are different from the sands which come from the beach in which silicon dioxide (Si02) prevails. Soils from the bottom of the ocean also have silicon dioxide but in addition to many other elements which make them much richer and better suited for vine growing.
In Vinogradi there is strong sand with rocks. In village Levunovo (which is a kilometer away from the Struma River) the sandy soil isn’t as prevalent. There’s more humus, there is claywhich protects and helps the vine to survive when it is too dry. It retains humidity, unlike the sandy soil.
How did it occur to you to make which wine from the Shiroka Melnishka vine?
The idea of white wine from the Shiroka Melnishka vine didn’t actually come to me. The suggestion came from the owner of the winery – Teodor Osikovski. I accepted the challenge. I used the direct press, with a very low yield of 45%. The grapes aren’t picked from the vine before the press, instead the whole grape bunch is used. That way we avoid the presence of tannins and colour as this technique allows the juice to flow much quicker in between the space provided by the grape solids. It was my idea to name the wine WHITE SAND. The wine gives off interesting and rare notes such as white pepper and avocado.